Simulacra and Simulations (AMS179)

What is ideology? What is ideology criticism?

What the relationship of Baudrillard’s essay “Simulacra and Simulations” to ideology/ideology criticism?

Can we use “S&S” as a means of explicating and understanding William Gibson’s Neuromancer and the Wachowsky Brothers’ The Matrix?

“Ideology only corresponds to a betrayal of reality by signs; simulation corresponds to a short-circuit of reality and to its reduplication by signs. It is always the aim of ideological analysis to restore the objective process; it is always a false problem to want to restore the truth beneath the simulacrum.”

We should try to salvage what we can from Baudrillard– bracketing, perhaps, his more extravagant claims– in order to see what might be of use to us in our efforts to think about American Pop.

The situation as Baudrillard describes it is a scenario in which none of the traditional binaries are operative any longer. The “precession of the simulacrum”– the primacy of sign over referent– has impoded the distinction between real and imaginary, fact and fiction, etc. In this brave new world the ubiquity of signs, their ceaseless circulation, has amputated our contact with reality. We now live in a simulation which no longer functions according to rational principles.

To connect these arguments with our everyday experience we could look at the way in which the mediascape produces the news it purports to report. A good example might be the Tea Party phenomenon, which as gained massive attention since last year though the numbers of those participating in this political movement are surely smaller than the millions of people around the globe who protested the invasion of Iraq. We could think about the amount of time we spend in a digital environment on a daily basis. Every morning I wake up, make coffee and go online. For the first hour after waking it is fair to say that I know more about (say) the situation in Thailand or the latest back-and-forth between Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid than I do about the weather in my neighborhood. There is an abundance of similar examples. Media also governs to a notable degree our relationship to ourselves and the rest of the world not by manipulating but by constructing our desires. We often consume products not out of necessity but because they signify something about what we want to be.

The idea of value is a significant part of Baudrillard’s critique. This goes back to his training in a Marxian tradition which distinguishes between use-value and exchange value. One of the effects of capitalism is to obscure the uses to which an object might be put in favor of its monetary worth and fungibility– i.e. its exchange value. Objects and people (their time in particular) are reduced to numbers. At present, minimum wage in California declares that an hour of your life is worth $8, a sum which will also buy you a ticket to a movie or a meal. The value of $8 thus equates these things, erasing their difference.

The materiality of production– where things come from, where they are made– becomes increasingly opaque in the society of the simulation. The objects we consume seem to appear out of nowhere, divorced from the conditions of their production.

In the past, ideology criticism was understood to be a project of revealing that which was hidden, of peeling back a deceptive appearance in order to uncover the truth that lay beneath. This would be what we’ve discussed earlier in the semester as ideology as “false consciousness.” For Baudrillard, that conception of ideology no longer has any practical application; it belongs to a “second order” simulacra. In the world of simulation, ideology is irrelevant because the notion of penetrating a lie to access a truth has dissolved. There is no truth and there are no lies. Or, put another way, the situation and its various aspects are true and false as the same time. There is no objective standpoint from which to criticize reality. Every representation of reality is already ideological because our perceptions and our thinking are structured by simulacra.

Try and focus on the section titled “Hyperreal and imaginary”. Baudrillard’s extraordinary assessment of Disneyland is that it is, in a sense, the realest place in America because it knows itself to be a space of fantasy whereas the rest of the country insists, erroneously, that it is part of the real. “Disneyland is there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland (just as prisons are there to conceal the fact that it is the social in its entirety, in its banal omnipresence, which is carceral). Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, when in fact all of Los Angeles and the America surrounding it are no longer real, but of the order of the hyperreal and of simulation. It is no longer a question of a false representation of reality (ideology), but of concealing the fact that the real is no longer real, and thus of saving the reality principle.”